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Liberalism in International Organisations

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: International Relations
Wordcount: 2373 words Published: 24th Nov 2020

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Liberalism is a school of thought that argues states have common interests which form the basis of International Organisations (IO’s). Interests may include peace, prosperity and environmental factors meaning that cooperation is a rational factor, as interests such as fighting towards a cleaner environment are only able to be achieved through cooperation. Realists argue that cooperation is too difficult when states have power alongside survival as there key goal, yet liberal scholars argue that although there are issues when cooperating when states reject power politics, mutual benefits can arise. Pevehouse et al (2004) describes the 3 factors that define international organisations, within this essay I will be focusing on the United Nations (UN) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Firstly, having three or more states as members is a characteristic of an International organisation as it makes it multilateral, the UN is the largest with 193 members (Un.org). It’s necessary for International organisations to have a plenary at least every ten years, the IMF’s annual meeting is usually held every two succeeding years in the Washington headquarters and then every third year in a member state, regular meetings allows for consistent productivity and a flow of relevant information within the organisation. Finally, the final factor is that there is a permanent secretariat and correspondence address – this allows for a higher level of institutionalization, meaning it separates the doings of IO’s from regular international conferences. For liberals, such structural frameworks allow IO’s to be taken with a higher degree of legitimacy and authority within the international arena. I have chosen the liberal perspective to address the existence and functioning of IO’s as it is largely relevant as it discusses peace through cooperation of democratic nations and economic dependence, as well as believing peaceful conflict resolution, all of which will be discussed.

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Notably, institutions matter to Liberals due to acting as a mechanism for actors converging interests to mould and create norms that overcome common problems and push towards a greater integrated world. Consequently, meaning that international organisations facilitate cooperation. Burchill (2005,63) emphasises that states involved with international organizations are “concerned with maximizing their absolute gains”. Absolute gains are focused on by liberals as it’s a way in which they explain the mutual benefits states can achieve when they delegate some sovereignty to International organizations. It’s the belief that cooperation can lead to increased welfare for all parties involved, meaning that everyone can reap benefits, not just one actor. Despite the realist debate that the risk of individual states shying away from cooperation to maximise their benefits is too high, the liberal theory - the Prisoners Dilemma addresses this challenge. The prisoner's dilemma explains that although there may be strong incentives to defect away from cooperation if they do so the situation they will end up in, would be worse than if they just cooperated (Ritterberg et al 2012). Thus, states decide to arrange their cooperation with other states through international organisations (Abbott and Snidal 1998). A Illustration of this can be seen with the IMF, states may not want to have to pay a quota subscription and share domestic financial information with other states, yet if they do they gain access to financial and technical support when they need it as well as membership encouraging trade and investment with the other 184 included member states. By this calculation liberalism provides a convincing argument that international organizations were created with the main function to help facilitate cooperation among states, to ensure individual absolute gains that are indifferent to the gains of others (Powell 1991).

International Organisations, due to being a third party within the relationship their job is to act as a mediator between states. Adhering to the liberal-institutionalists view, they monitor the behaviour of states and help provide information and guidance to increase the transparency between relationships, thus making having a truthful connection easier for cooperating states. The United Nations has the economic and social council who is the principal body for “coordination, policy review, policy dialogue and recommendations on economic, social and environmental issues, as well as the implementation of internationally agreed development goals” (Un.org). Most notably having a gateway platform that promotes collective action, reduces tensions between states and encourages positive interactions. States who are members of the United Nations are willing and want to cooperate to help states reduce militarization as well as promote peace. The United Nations established in 2006 the Mediation Support Unit which comes under the office of the Secretary-General. The mediation support unit highlights the operational readiness of the UN to ensure peaceful resolutions to disputes between states. The Mediation Support Unit relies on a team of experts who can be deployed within 72 hours. Between 2008 and 2011 there have been 35 peace processes (Convergne 2016). Sudan is an example of the work that is being done. The MSU has been supporting the peace engagement which is being led by the African Union High-Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) and the Office of the Special Envoy of Sudan and South Sudan (OSESSS). After the MSU making many deployments, they were able to directly support and facilitate discussions with Sudanese and South Sudanese counterparts in efforts to identify potential common ground that will be able to be discussed in the larger ongoing peace process. (Peacemaker.un.org). Thus furthering my argument, that the United Nations using soft intervention via mediation is an example of the liberal belief that the existence and primary function of international organizations is to monitor cooperation and reduce the power struggle in the international sphere, as well as viewing violence policy as a last resort.

When looking at International Organisations through a liberal perspective, it is clear that a function of them is to reduce the security threat between states in the global arena. After world war 2 the UN was created on the grounds of maintaining liberal principles and security. The creators hoped that it would help maintain peace in the international arena for many years, in the way in which the League of Nations was unable to. International Organisations recognize that there is systematic anarchy, this, therefore, helps them address the risk of security. Many solutions have been put in place liberals argue that help them increase security and reduce conflict. Such as within the UN there are known procedures through the UN security council that if issues do arise, they can be settled as quickly as possibilities’ can be said to provide alternative avenues for diplomacy. Secondly, International Organisations can are able outline the liberal norms and regulations that constrain the behaviours of actors, meaning social life is a lot less volatile. Keohane & Nye (1997) explain that due to globalization, there are now increasing complexities within relations, meaning that even the most powerful states are now depending on other states within the context of international organisations to create stable relationships. The United Nations have and do help with interdependence. An aspect of the UN is to “Help global Polity through difficult times ahead” (Barnett, 1997, p535). In response to this, the UN  Security council , who’s responsibility is to to maintain peace, uphold  security as well as promote democracy , is therefore able to deploy Peacekeeping operations of which is a "a unique and dynamic instrument developed by the organization as a way to help countries torn by conflict to create the conditions for lasting peace"(Un.org)

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), was created with liberal objectives post world war 2. The core liberal assumption being that states endeavour wealth in the same way in which they look for security. In 1944 the Bretton Woods conference took place, the consensus was that the only way to safeguard is through international cooperation. Economist staff at the IMF, have such vast knowledge they are able to help stabilize by promoting development and growth by providing monetary assistance to countries struggling with financial instability. The ‘co-operative nature of the Fund and the shared expertise on which it draws enables it to speak with genuine authority’ (Howe:1982 :203) this enables the existence of the international organisation to be worthwhile as people benefit from its services. The structural Adjustment Policies (SAPS) which include fiscal discipline, tax reform, and financial liberalization, from a liberal perspective are key aspects that will help states gain economic prosperity. SAPS goal is ‘to encourage developing countries to pursue market-oriented’ (Thomas 2008: 475). International Organisations such as the IMF’s function is therefore to provide states who are not developing at the same pace as world leaders with information and technical assistance.  Consequently, from a liberal perspective, the promotion of international trade and liberalization of markets leads to economies becoming interconnected, reducing the likelihood of conflict between states due to the risks of damaging economies being too high. As it has been pointed out in the essay, institutions matter in ongoing commercial relations, as transaction costs are high and the incentives to cheat from liberal trade may exist but the potential for joint gains is higher.

Despite the debate given by Realists that power in one aspect of the international arena leads to domination, Liberals argue that this is false in the respect of International Organisations. Liberals believe that power is issue-specific, when applying the idea to the IMF it can be illustrated by how the member's quota leads to how member states vote. The quotas which are implemented are central to the IMF’s operation, quotas determine the contribution in which has to be made by the member. Calculations for the quotas are dependent on the country's relative weight in the world economy (Krieger 2001).Thus meaning that states who have a strong economy , such as countries who follow liberal economic policies , like the United States are able to dominate the IMF in comparison to states such as Zimbabwe as power is issue specific. Thus exaggerating that International Organisations such as the IMF are used as a tool in which states can share power relative to their knowledge.

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In conclusion I believe that the liberalism best explains the existence and functioning of IO’s, in particular the UN and the IMF. The main principles including the rejecting the idea of power politics, absolute gains and international cooperation are ideas that have shaped the creation of International organisation. Through the UN, interdependence has increased due to diplomacy, meaning that states have the increased opportunity to reduce the amount of conflict as cooperation is encouraged through regular yearly sessions. Furthermore, after analysing the IMF it can be explained that the function to monitor and promote trade is due to underlying liberal values such as encouraging international free trade as well as prospering economies are less likely to engage in disputes as the fear of damaging their economy is too great. To finalise my argument, I believe that the liberal explanation of workings of international organisations is essential in understanding the current political atmosphere with more positive relationships flourishing and economies booming.


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